Secret no.39 A fried breakfast

3627037828_cd296af6c2_oAt 105, Kathleen Hilton has earned the right to eat what she wants for breakfast. And what she wants is bacon, sausage, tomatoes, eggs and beans – the ‘full English’.

Her son David told eager national newspapers: “Kath loves her weekly breakfast. It must be the fry ups which are giving her the long lease of life. That and good genes.”

Born in Grimsby, Kathleen left school at 15 to work as a bookkeeper in the docks, met her husband Matt in the town and married him at the Old Clee church there (wearing blue rather than white in recognition of the tragic death of a brother, Leslie). Matt died in 1984 but Kathleen continued to lived alone and independent until the age of 100. She is now a resident at Homefield House care home. Angela Dannett, who works there, confirms Kathleen’s fondness for a full English: “She loves it. If she could have a cooked breakfast every day, she would.”

So could the full English be a factor in Kathleen’s long life?

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 10. We’ve grown up with the advice of US nutritionist Adele King ringing in our ears: ‘Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper‘. Unfortunately there’s really no definitive evidence to support it. While some studies do suggest that breakfast is good for you, the weight of evidence really doesn’t demonstrate any benefit to eating your biggest meal in the morning*.

Nor is a cooked breakfast the best breakfast you can eat. While tomatoes are good, eggs are fine (again in moderation) and baked beans are great (if a bit heavy on sugar), altogether they’re laden with calories (upwards of 800), fat and salt. And the sausage and bacon  are prime examples of the processed meat we’re encouraged to eat in moderation because of an association with cancer.

All of which is probably why Kathleen doesn’t have it every day. In a bit of the story that’s all too easily overlooked, her son David told the local newspaper that, while she has the full-English every Saturday morning, ‘she has porridge throughout the week’.

Now that’s more like it as a real longevity secret. It might not have grabbed the attention and made it into the national newspapers though and Kathleen would have missed her brief bit of fame. Let’s home she enjoyed it as much as her weekly fry-up.

* Despite this the very enthusiastic Mr Breakfast website (‘All breakfast, all the time’) lists every piece of positive research about breakfast that’s been published, as well as a database of all 1,528 cereals every made, from Addams Family Cereal to Zoe’s O’s.

I am grateful to Christine Miller at Independent Age for finding this longevity secret for me. Thanks Christine!

photo credit: The Full English via photopin (license)

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Do 100-year-olds feel life is worthwhile?

A recent post about centenarians’ causes of death received this succinct response: ‘Why on earth would you want to live to 100?

It was one illustration of the sense many people have that, after a certain age, life gets worse and worse – and then we die.

And in fairness it’s clear that while many of the centenarians we’ve seen are living active, engaged lives, many are not. It’s easy to view them from afar and conclude that they’re not happy. Now the UK Office of National Statistics has produced survey data looking at  how our sense of well-being changes as we age and it provides some support to the pessimists.

It looks at four aspects of well-being: life satisfaction, the feeling that life is worthwhile, happiness and lack of anxiety.

Overall it shows that wellbeing follows a u-shaped curve, starting high in childhood, dipping in middle age and then rising again after 60. However it also suggests that wellbeing peaks at age 75 and then declines again. For three of the measures – life satisfaction, happiness and lack of anxiety – the decline is slow enough that even when people are over 90 they are still registering higher levels of wellbeing than those in middle age. But for the feeling that life is worthwhile the decline is steeper: people in their 90s feel that life is less worthwhile than at any stage of their lives.

The ONS suggests that the findings could relate to poor health and loneliness. That seems credible since health does decline with age, even if there is huge variation in the degree to which people 90+ experience it. And it’s also true that older people are more likely to be living alone once their partner, if they had one, has died.

So does all this apply to our centenarians? Do they also feel that life is becoming less worthwhile after they’ve hit 100? Well, while the data does suggest that trend, it’s possible that they might not, or at least not quite so much.  For one thing, we know that centenarians are different: they tend to enjoy better health than people who die earlier – that is, of course, the main reason they get to 100. So, if the ONS is right in saying that declining health is the cause of declining wellbeing, it may apply less to 100-year-olds.

And there’s also evidence that 100-year-olds tend to look on the bright side anyway. This research suggests they may be more optimistic than older people generally. So even if health is beginning to take it toll, centenarians may not feel it affects their wellbeing quite so much.

That’s supported by this poll in the US which suggests that centenarians are, by and large, happy. In fact half of them say they wouldn’t change anything in their lives. And that’s a pretty high bar: if you can say that about your own life, you’re not doing so badly.

 

STORY SO FAR: top-rated ways to live to 100

Twenty entries in to our ‘101 ways to live to 100′ and already one or two trends are emerging. Alcohol and religion both turn up in quite a few of our centenarians’ secrets to longevity, as does chocolate. So far, no one has mentioned genetics (though a few have mentioned ‘family’). And our surprise leader is mountaineering.

Our league table below is surely the only time these words have ever appeared in a list together:

9/10: Mountaineering
8/10: A loving family; Be happy and enjoy life;
7/10: A good doctor; praising God
6/10: One meal a day; sleep; hard work
5/10: ChocolateMonogamy; Guinness; Yoga; a lot of booze
4/10: Two raw eggs;
3/10: Work less overtime;
2/10: Bacon
1/10: Water from a wishing well
0/10: Pearls
No score: Good food; stem cells

Back soon with: Does a sense of humour help you live longer?

Secret no.12 A loving family’

Nazar Singh, who died last month in India where he was visiting family, was believed to be Europe’s oldest man. He was though to be 111, though he had no birth certificate.

He told media after his 110th birthday that his longevity was due to good food, good family and happiness. However his fondness for a tot of whisky every night – and perhaps the fact that he was pictured on his birthday with a pint of lager and a whisky chaser – led understandably to the whisky also being cited (we’ve covered whisky in another post).

Nazar was born in the Punjab, India. He navigated two world wars and the independence and partition of India before moving to the UK in 1965. He worked in a foundry in the West Midlands and then moved to Sunderland on retirement. He returned to India in January this year and was being cared for by his two eldest sons.

Plausibility rating: 8 out of 10. We don’t know exactly what food Nazar ate (though we know he drank milk and almond oil}. There is evidence about the beneficial effect of alcohol in moderation but also some that questions it. And he is surely right to emphasise the importance of a loving family to longevity: the absence of strong relationships – whether family or friends – is linked to early death. One study, cited by the Campaign to End Loneliness, says it is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Nazar believed that ‘family need to look after elders’, a view that would be popular with the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who recently worried in public about the number of ‘lonely funerals’. The latter need not have concerned Nazar: he had 34 grandchildren and 63 great-grandchildren.